British Columbia ski resorts scramble to recruit winter workers


Recruitment, a challenge before the pandemic, has proved all the more true with seaside resorts cut off from the international workforce they relied on to fill their ranks.

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Big White Ski Resort near Kelowna has seen a surprising wave of job applicants after the Thanksgiving long weekend to fill some of the 650 positions it is trying to fill for the upcoming ski season, without taking any pressure off Senior Vice President Michael Ballingall.

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In a typical year, Big White would get five to six applicants for every position he offers, this year, in the depths of the fourth wave of COVID-19 in B.C., “We don’t have a one-on-one head, ”said Ballingall, who is currently typical at many ski resorts across the province.

Skiing has proven to be a popular outdoor outlet for many British Columbians during the initial waves of the pandemic, which has given resorts to another strong season.

Recruitment, however, remains a challenge as previous COVID-related travel restrictions still make it difficult to secure the usual pool of foreign visitors looking for snow that resorts have traditionally relied on to supplement their workforce, and resorts compete with all other hotel companies to hire an increasingly tight local labor pool.

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“Sous chefs, you would normally have 20, 25 (candidates) per position, we don’t have any,” Ballingall said. “I can’t find a Level 3 ski instructor in Canada to train my ski instructors, and these were easy jobs to fill. “

Ballingall said there were up to nearly 650 nominations on Wednesday, but won’t know how many will actually show up for the Nov. 15 start dates.

And sales at the resort have been strong with the Christmas and New Years dates nearly sold out, Ballingall said.

“We won’t hit the panic button until, you know, mid-November,” Ballingall said, but in the meantime we’ve had to look further into Canada to fill specific positions and offer incentives like subsidized trips to bring workers to the site.

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At the Sun Peaks Resort, outside Kamloops, operators are confident they will fill the jobs necessary for basic mountain operations to manage the ski lifts and maintain the trails, spokeswoman Christina Antoniak said, but will fill jobs related to hospitality has been more difficult.

“Everything about the reception, the back room, the supervision (in restaurants) is just not the point of the applications,” said Antoniak.

Sun Peaks is looking to fill 450 positions for the winter, but around 20% of hospitality jobs remain vacant within weeks of start dates to be ready for an opening on November 20.

Closer to Vancouver, the seaside resort of Cypress Mountain is hosting its big “job-a-palooza” hiring fair this weekend at Lonsdale Quay. managed to hire twice as many foreign workers as usual.

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At Whistler Blackcomb, no one was available for an interview, but spokesperson Jennifer Smith said the resort “is fortunate to have a great base of seasonal employees, and our employees from previous years have continued to do so. proof of enthusiasm to return to work this winter “.

In an email, Smith said his retention strategy included salaries, benefits and paid sick leave for full-time seasonal staff not eligible for emergency sick leave pay.

Resorts closer to large cities, like Vancouver or Calgary, have “a larger pool (of workers) to tap into,” said Chris Nicolson, CEO of the Western Canada Ski Resort Association, but the pool does wasn’t that deep before the pandemic.

“Skiing is included, but the entire tourism industry is struggling with labor shortages, not just this year, but for some time,” Nicolson said.

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Nicolson is hoping, however, that Ottawa will speed up approval of work permits for foreign workers that Canadian resorts have traditionally relied on as COVID vaccination rates rise.

Ballingall said “there appears to be a backlog at the immigration office right now,” particularly from Australians and New Zealanders already in the country, so Big White is among the stations pushing on the government to get them approved.

“We know a lot of people in (BC) who would work with us again if they had a visa,” he said, “and that would solve our problem.”

Ballingall said he also hoped that the end of the federal government’s emergency response service, CERB, on October 23, would help spur another wave of demands.

And he suspects that the COVID vaccination warrants – Big White expects employees to be double-dose, just like Whistler Blackcomb and Grouse Mountain – have helped their recruitment.

“It’s been a huge success, and believe it or not, the people we hear about are the parents (of potential workers),” Ballingall said.

Last winter Big White and Whistler experienced outbreaks of COVID, so the prospect of everyone getting vaccinated makes these parents a lot more comfortable.

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